(3DS eShop)

Game Review

Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

Patience, young grasshopper

We're only a month into 2012 and the eShop's offerings this year are already weighted heavily with samurai-themed games. In truth, the two couldn't be more different: whereas UFO Interactive's Samurai Sword Destiny favours the straightforward button-mashing approach, Nintendo's own Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword puts patience and precision at the forefront in a game with surprising depth and longevity.

Taking on the role of the titular Sakura Samurai, you're recruited by Kappa, the master of a pond near an ancient sakura tree, to rescue the kidnapped Princess Cherry Blossom. Doing so involves slicing your way through hordes of bad people and three really big bad people across the map.

Sakura Samurai's combat invites comparisons to Nintendo's Punch-Out!! in the sense that both are based on countering whatever attack that enemies telegraph, but that's really where the similes end: Sakura Samurai takes that seed and grows it into a slightly more elaborate system by incorporating more freedom and on-the-fly tactics than the largely reactionary Punch-Out!!. Battles take place in enclosed areas where bands of enemies are free to move around you and you around them, adding a bit of strategic positioning into the mix. The order in which they attack varies, although if you get close enough to any given foe you can strike before they approach. Enemies start out obvious but gradually increase in complexity, adding fake-out and multi-strike moves. If in a pinch, unleashing a special attack will damage all opponents you manoeuvre in front of.

Crucially, Sakura Samurai's balance feels fun and never cheap; messing up tends to encourage doing better next time. Combat is big on precision and calculation, favouring well-placed deliberate strikes over hack-and-slashing your way through. Blocking attacks or having your own attack blocked dents your sword, subsequently weakening your strikes, so it pays to learn enemy patterns and know when to go on the offensive. For further import on precision, there's a neat timing element to combat: successfully dodging at the right moment earns Precision Points that can be traded for gold in towns, but messing up by getting hit or having your attack blocked resets the tally. Precision Points double as a personal high score of sorts as well, with your highest-sold streak visible in item shops. Considering the value in gold of high Precision Point streaks, it's the fastest way to amass money for buying items and sword upgrades, making timing key to success.

Outside of battle, there's a bit of character building going on. Conquering a battle for the first time rewards half of a sakura petal that goes towards increasing your life bar, and the three towns dotted across the overworld map let you upgrade your sword and indulge in some side games for extra money or items.

There are three areas to the overworld punctuated by boss battles, and slashing your way through the story shouldn't take more than four hours. Once it's over and done with, though, there are still things to do and see to keep the game in rotation: a handful of enemy gauntlets unlock as you progress through the story, and the more serene sakura garden lets you put pedometer steps towards blooming trees once a day. There is a meatier bonus, too: the main game is already challenging, but completing the story once unlocks Expert mode that really lives up to its name. Enemies do double the damage and sakura petals aren't awarded after battles; timing and precision become even more important than before as even the wimpiest foes can wipe out a lazy swordsman.

Sakura Samurai's audio side of things is well covered, with its music hitting the samurai nail square on the head. The stereoscopic 3D is generally pleasant and helpful when judging distance for dodging attacks and projectiles, but the developers surprisingly succumb to very goofy "in your face" 3D from time to time that simply doesn't look very good. Visually it's a stylistic game that can be very pretty in places but feels largely lacking in environment design, and a few of the character models look like holdovers from the N64 era. The bosses look great, though, as does everything sakura-related.

Conclusion

Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword may not be the prettiest game on the eShop but it sure is one of the most challenging, striking a good balance between difficulty and precision. With plenty to do for the willing and done well, Sakura Samurai is rewarding in a way that many games don't aim for and, with a lengthier story mode, could easily pass for a retail game. Not bad for $7.

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User Comments (72)

Kagamine

#1

Kagamine said:

really? wow, i was expecting a lot worse for this game.
"with a lengthier story mode, could easily pass for a retail game"
^This comment is making me want to get it, even though before i didnt have much of an interest before.

LeasTwanteD

#4

LeasTwanteD said:

Nice to see it turned out as i expected. Thanks for the comparison to Punch-Out!! . Many here didn't seem to get that the games are somewhat similar. (Not identical of course, but if i want that i can just play the original games or Rage of the Gladiator.) .Maybe you could even loosely compare it to the swordsplay game in Wii Sports Resort, haven't played that a lot.
It's also great that the game has a pedometer feature. Recently i use the one in Nintendogs + Cats despite not really playing the game anymore. Even better that i don't have to use a cart anymore then.
Now it only has to come to Europe.

SkywardLink98

#7

SkywardLink98 said:

Sounds interesting, but I'm not a perfectionist and the " and slashing your way through the story shouldn't take more than four hours." makes me want to stay away from it, because once I beat it I probably won't be coming back to beat the extra stuff.

Hejiru

#9

Hejiru said:

Does the protagonist have a name, or do you just name him yourself? Also, is the story actually interesting, or is it just the basic, "bad guy kidnapped the princess, go rescue her" thing?

joevox316

#10

joevox316 said:

Yep, I am definitely getting this! :D One thing puzzles me though..."may not be the prettiest game on the eShop..." How is that exactly? How many fully 3D games (i.e., not games with 2D sprites popping via 3D) are there on the eShop? Seems like they're aren't too many that I know of. I think the main character looks great, and some of the wackier designs make me think of Wind Waker mixed with Animal Crossing. :) Quit picking on the poor berry-nosed samurai! lol

Shworange

#11

Shworange said:

Man, that 3DSware shop is doing really well lately! Not only releasing games quicker than Nintendo is usually known for, but releasing a lot of really highly rated games too! I love it!

JonWahlgrenAdmin

#14

JonWahlgren said:

@9: The protagonist is only referred to as the Sakura Samurai, and you can't name him. As for the story, it's basically "your princess is in another castle" type stuff.

@10: A game doesn't have to be fully 3D to be pretty! But anyway, Pushmo and Zen Pinball look pretty great. If you love the way this looks then great, I found the art style to be a little bland in spots.

C-Olimar

#15

C-Olimar said:

I think this looks better than Zen Pinball, as this has a unique visual style. Pullblox looked a little repetive to me.

'The two couldn't be much different' - I think that's supposed to be more different, in the context?

TeeJay

#19

TeeJay said:

I agree with 10. Judging from the screenshots, the game looks great graphically. But I guess it all comes down to preference.

joevox316

#20

joevox316 said:

@14 NOOOOO never let it be said I think that! 2D sprites all the way! SNES forever! But anyway...yeah I understand what you're saying. I'll bet I come to similar conclusions when I buy it this week. To be fair, it does seem a bit easier to sculpt a beautiful static pinball table or some good looking cartoon blocks than it does to make an adventure game where every environment is as beautiful as that though. :)

Geonjaha

#23

Geonjaha said:

Samurai's are so unoriginal - no buy for me. Yes that's how my game buying works. :3

AVahne

#24

AVahne said:

So that means this game should be coming this week? Maybe? If so then I'm more than ready to buy it!

komicturtle

#25

komicturtle said:

@24
Yup, this week. On Nintendo Show 3D, the girl said it comes out this week, so it's cool to know when we get games a week's notice :)

Anyhow, can't wait to get this game. The art style sooo reminds me of the N64 games, while at the same time looking pleasing.

Maybe that Kappa thing gives me that vibe. Oh, and Animal Crossing too :D

Aqueous

#26

Aqueous said:

I was already planning to pick this up but nice review, I can't wait to get my hands on it!

TwilightV

#27

TwilightV said:

I think I read somewhere that his name is Sakuramaru (in homage to Takamaru from Nazo No Murasamejou), but it could've just been a made up name.

The N64 style graphics are what really makes this an instabuy for me. So nostalgic! <3

JonWahlgrenAdmin

#29

JonWahlgren said:

@28: Once a day you can put your pedometer steps towards a rock garden, and the more steps you put in the more the sakura trees bloom. It's mostly just pretty, and it takes a lot of steps to get stuff in full bloom.

Retro_on_theGo

#30

Retro_on_theGo said:

Sounds absolutely great! I was already sold on this game. The review just makes me want it more! Great a few worries I had were soothed out here though. So excited! Day one buy.:)

Henmii

#31

Henmii said:

Nice review! Another one I will ad to my collection when it arrives in Europe!

MeloMan

#33

MeloMan said:

I had my eye on this one, glad to see it didn't disappoint. I will be scooping this up.

joevox316

#34

joevox316 said:

@29 A rock garden? Cool! Thanks for detailing that more. Now I know I'm gonna love this game! :D

sinalefa

#35

sinalefa said:

Awesome score. A game like Skyward Sword favours the patient approach to swordfighting that this seems to encourage too. I will definitely check it out

Supremeist

#36

Supremeist said:

This is a must-have for me if it releases in NA this Thursday. Super excited, looks alot better than Samurai Destiny. :)

HanuKwanzMasBif

#40

HanuKwanzMasBif said:

Do you have a limit on how much your plants can bloom in a day? Or can I take like 100,000 steps in a day and have a tree go from nothing to fully grown?
I'd prefer the latter. That would be awesome.

JonWahlgrenAdmin

#41

JonWahlgren said:

@40: The most I cashed in on one day was 6,000 and it made one of the three trees bloom to 60%. I have no idea if there's an upper ceiling to how many steps you can cash in, but if there is one then I think it's safe to call it reasonably high. :)

HanuKwanzMasBif

#43

HanuKwanzMasBif said:

So theoretically 100,000 steps would get me 10 trees.
excuse me, I'm going to go make a jungle and burn thousands upon thousands of calories

TimboBaggins

#45

TimboBaggins said:

This won't be on the reward program - its too good and its brand new. That would be like putting Pushmo on the reward program a week after it released. I'm really looking forward to this - cartoon infinity blade here I come!

BenAV

#46

BenAV said:

This game's looking good from what I've been reading.
Definitely picking it up when it gets released here.

Usagi-san

#48

Usagi-san said:

No release date for Australia... Hmm, I hope that's not a bad sign. I'm quite interested in this game and it would be dissapointing if it was another one of those games that we just don't get.

Nilkad_Naquada

#49

Nilkad_Naquada said:

Sakura garden sounds similar to chao garden in sonic adventure in the same way that this game is similar to punch-out!! Interesting though this seems, i think i'll pass. i'm still trying to finish the immensely long Okami. amazing, but long. very long. worth it though, because epic art direction + epic storyline (although it does seem to be like in old comic books where a threat just got neautralized and then " but wait something wicked this way comes again!") + Amazing gameplay + uber imaginative celestial brush = one of the best games i've ever played ( and i didnt even mention the amazing humor)

Sam_Loser2

#51

Sam_Loser2 said:

I look to every Dsiware review expecting it to be horrible, and every 3DSware release hoping it to be good, expecting it to be at least decent. The quality of 3DSware is surprisingly above par for the eShop.

millarrp

#52

millarrp said:

I'm going to pick this up eventually...just got Pushmo though so I'm not going to jump in right away

alvieao

#54

alvieao said:

This is an awesome 3DS eShop game. The gameplay is similar to the Punch-Out!! series, except in a feudal Japanese setting and with free movement. It is also very challenging, as dodging enemy attacks from all corners requires good timing and precision. In fact, having a good Precision Point streak helps earn more money that way. The sakura garden is a nice diversion, as this mode counts the pedometer steps towards blooming trees per day. The characters are goofy but in a good way, while everything else mostly looks great. Come to think of it, some of these NPCs looked like they were from Animal Crossing. All that being said, Nintendo did a fantastic job with Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword and I can't wait to see how Dillon’s Rolling Western turns out.

DKmania

#55

DKmania said:

This deserves at least a 9. Other than the somewhat short main quest, this game is perfect!

retrox

#56

retrox said:

Okay, yeah, yeah, I get it. Enough already. Nintendo, I've had it with you. Seriously. I have OTHER things to do besides play your @&(#$! games all day, you know. Could we get just a couple of shovelware titles in between all these great games lately? Is that asking too much? I mean really.

At the rate Nintendo is flooding the market with this... this... awesome crap, I'm NEVER gonna finish Skyrim. Or Mutant Mudds. Or LoZ:SS. And I've all but abandoned my Hall of the Mountain King project in Minecraft. It's just not right!

We get it. You rule. Now knock it off.

SqueakyTheBone

#57

SqueakyTheBone said:

Glad this one turned out well, given that it looked a little hit and miss in the trailers. I'll definitely download it when I get the chance!

Katernity

#58

Katernity said:

this is the ninth eshop game i've downloaded and my favorite so far. great gameplay, great graphics, nice variety of things to do-love it! highly recommended.

kyuubikid213

#59

kyuubikid213 said:

I love it. It is really fun and challenging. It isn't long, but the gameplay makes up for that. I also liked the villages.

realar

#60

realar said:

@retrox I love the sheer irony of this comment.
BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS.
This game is seriously top notch, don't be put off by the fact it uses a samurai as the protagonist (which some think are overrated- I'm looking at you Geonjaha!), the gameplay uses the elegantly designed circle pad to best use and the fact you can choose how you play definitely made my purchase decision easy. It's a steal at 7 bucks if you ask me.

Robo-goose

#61

Robo-goose said:

Guys, get this game.
It's really fun, and has a great price. Normally you wouldn't like to be fighting the same enemies over and over again, but this game is different, every single slash feels satisfying, once you kill an enemy, all you want to do is kill another one.
The environments are all the same, but that's not what you're paying attention to, either. Your entire mind is focused on one thing: killing people!
Forget the Princess, I just wanna see people die by my blade!

cecesigue

#62

cecesigue said:

Best downlodable game yet for me, addictive to play several times the same stages. killing the enemies over and over makes you better and you wanna do it again. brilliant game.

Captain_Hookey

#66

Captain_Hookey said:

finally came across to buying this game, along with dark crystal and art academy: second semester. once you get a hand on the precision needed, its a pretty fun game.

SammyOfMobius

#69

SammyOfMobius said:

So it's like a mix of Mario (story plot), Link (character-wise), and Punch-Out (gameplay)? AWESOME!!! (:D

XCWarrior

#71

XCWarrior said:

@kespino20 Says right in the story - 4 hours. Check out the review, read it sometime.

Now that this on sale, I might have to pick it up. Like the concept of the game, and the fact it has stuff to do outside the game to keep you playing makes it sounds even better. Especially for $5.

HawkeyeWii

#72

HawkeyeWii said:

Ok I heard this is kind of like Punch Out!!, is that true? If so, even in the slightest, I will definitely get this!

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